A Different World


Chris Sherwood introduces HD's special edition on Japan April 2006, which resulted from an Architects for Health tour of some of the country's leading health buildings.

A child who couldn't wait to go to a hospital, a 'pet' robot that acts as a 'seeing eye' for clinicians, and a home for the elderly whose deceased patients "go out the same way they come in", this was the stuff of the Architects for Health visit to Japan.

In November 2005, 24 representatives from Architects for Health (AfH) visited Japan, reciprocating a visit by a delegation from the Japan Institute for Healthcare Architects, (JIHa) in September 2005, which toured hospitals in the UK, and participated in a joint seminar with AfH. The AfH delegation was kindly sponsored by the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation, and was led by Dr Ann Noble, chair of AfH, and Paul Mercer, secretary, while Graham Cooper, Liane Friedrich and Junko Iwaya gave invaluable assistance in organisation, liaison, and translation. Dr Atsuo Kakehi, head of the international committee of JIHa, and director of the Department of Facility Sciences at the National Institute of Public Health, hosted this stimulating and informative study tour, and with the assistance of Ms Kumiko Asakawa, arranged the schedule in impeccable detail. The wholehearted participation of Professor Yasushi Nagasawa, of The University of Tokyo Department of Architecture (and a one-time student at the Medical Architecture Research Unit), and some of his staff and students, added significant value to the group experience, and was greatly appreciated.

We experienced, first hand, Japan in all its glory: Tokyo with its rush hour underground, the legendary Shinkansen "Bullet" trains, the mysteries (and wonders) of Japanese food, the high standards and expectations of the Japanese, in everything they do, use, and buy, and the way everything works as it should. We marvelled at the cleanliness, lack of litter, the almost complete absence of antisocial behaviour, and the elevation of the communal good. Throughout our stay, we were treated with wonderful hospitality by our genial hosts, and indeed, virtually all the people with which we came into contact. For us, they opened a small window on Japanese society, and in turn enhanced our understanding of the Japanese healthcare system and its social context. The whole group were unanimous in their enthusiasm for Japan, the experience, and a desire to return.

This report is a timely reminder to British architects to look overseas"

Sandwiched between an introductory seminar at the University of Tokyo, and a concluding joint seminar, with JIHA, were visits to eight healthcare buildings, ranging from a nursing home, to large acute and specialist hospitals. Additionally, some of the group informally visited several other hospitals, either unaccompanied, or in the case of the Red Cross Hospital, in Yokohama, hosted by its architect, Kazuaki Ito. Interspersed between the hospital visits were an informal evening reception at the British Embassy, and a visit to the Hospex Japan 2005 exhibition at the spectacular Big Sight exhibition centre on the Tokyo quayside. Earlier in the year, Architects for Health had been invited to present examples of recently completed UK healthcare projects alongside the JIHA display there, and AfH was able to present some high quality examples of finished projects from across the UK.

Four of the formal visits were to acute hospitals - of these, two were large teaching hospitals, while two were to hospitals which would be defined as district hospitals in the UK. Two children's hospitals were included on the itinerary, and a nursing home for elderly residents, as well as a tour of a forensic unit limited to four AfH members.

The JIHA visit to the UK in 2005 was not the first. In 2001 a symposium at the RIBA celebrated the work of another group of Japanese architects who presented it. Indeed during the AfH tour which we report on here, we learned that a number of the senior healthcare architects we met had taken inspiration not from American or European hospitals, but from British designs. Perhaps this report can point British architects towards Japan for inspiration. What we saw certainly provided food for thought, and in some cases, inspiration.

Chris Sherwood  Director Nightingale Architects London

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